The nation's real median income rose for the first time since 1999, while the poverty rate remained virtually unchanged at 12.6 percent, marking the end of four consecutive years of increasing poverty, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.
However, the report wasn't all positive. White non-Hispanics were the only ethnic group who saw a decrease in poverty. And some 46.6 million people lacked health-insurance coverage, a slight increase from previous years, according to the "Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005" report from the Current Population Survey.
Data released Tuesday indicate that real median income for U.S. households rose by 1.1 percent, to $46,326. That information, coupled with decreasing average household size from 3.3 people in 1967 to 2.6 in 2005 "could imply an even larger increase in economic well-being for households," said David Johnson, chief of the U.S. Census Bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division.
The survey showed Utah's two-year average median income rose by $1,536 to $53,693. Poverty in the state remained virtually unchanged at 9.6 percent.
Still, the fact that poverty rates failed to decline despite four years of economic growth in Utah and across the country is of particular concern, Utah anti-poverty advocates said Tuesday. And the number of seniors in poverty rose from 3.5 million in 2004 to 3.6 million in 2005, according to the report.
"We need to find ways to help those in poverty share the economic boom," said Sarah Wilhelm with Voices for Utah Children.
In Utah, the increase in the number of uninsured was more dramatic than national figures. Across the country, the percentage of uninsured rose by less than one percent to 15.9 percent. In Utah, that rate rose by 2 percent to 15.5 percent in 2004-05, based on two-year averages.
"To show such a significant increase in the midst of a so-called economic recovery is alarming," said Judi Hilman, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project.
Advocates seeking an end to child poverty also point to more startling statistics. The number of American children living in poverty was 17.6 percent in 2005 higher than the poverty rate of 11.1 percent of working-age adults and of 10.1 percent for seniors.
"Poor families and children are being left behind as the benefits of a steadily growing economy fail to trickle down," said Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund.
Edelman criticized the Bush administration and Congress for giving tax breaks to "the wealthiest Americans" while threatening to cut funding for social services.
The Current Population Survey was released at the same time as a separate American Community Survey report, which is available for some 7,000 areas, including counties and localities with 65,000 people or more.
Census Bureau director Louis Kincannon said the Census Bureau survey provides a more detailed look at income that is seen as the official source for income and poverty. The ACS, which is replacing the Census Long Form, is used for comparisons at the state and local level, he said. It will eventually include information for the entire nation.
According to the American Community Survey, Utah's rate of child poverty was 10.9 percent, among the nation's lowest. And Utah had the lowest rate of poverty among those ages 65 and older: 6.5 percent.
However, Terry Haven, Voices' KIDS COUNT coordinator, was among those who saw the numbers as a disappointment.
"The anti-poverty programs that we're using are not having the effect that we want, so it's time to start looking at some other things," Haven said.
The organization will lobby for a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit during the upcoming legislative session. The method would be fairly simple, Wilhelm said, based on a certain percentage, perhaps 10 percent, of the federal credit. For instance, a person who received a $4,000 federal credit would also get $400 back from the state.
Previous attempts at such a tax credit have passed in both the Utah Senate and House, but funding for the measure has never been approved.
"I think there's plenty of people that support it, (and) I think this current data shows us how desperately we need it," Wilhelm said.